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Back-to-School Shopping Tips: Start Early and Save

Ah, summer! Baseball and sunshine, lemonade stands ... and back to school?

Yep. Summer or not, it's time to think about ways to save money shopping for back-to-school clothing and school supplies.

Retailers are poised to begin back-to-school promotions the instant July 4th's fireworks cease to glow.

Savvy shoppers begin planning now to get the most for their back-to-school dollar.

  Read More >>Printables:  seasonal_back_to_school_budget.pdf seasonal_back_to_school_clothing_checklist.pdf

Welcome to the Back-to-School Countdown

A new school year is on the horizon! Time to prepare for back to school, with the Organized Home Back-to-School Countdown.

Beginning August 3, we'll take the first two weeks of the month get organized, gear up and get ready to send the children back to school from an organized home.

Following an ultimate back-to-school checklist, the Back-to-School Countdown includes weekday reminders, free printables and inspiring articles to help you prepare for the first day of school.

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Cash In: Start Now to Save Money for Christmas

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on July 24, 2015

Think Christmas ... when it's summertime? Sure--if you want to be prepared for a stress-free holiday season.

Starting holiday planning now makes sense ... and cents! Saving ahead for holiday expenses spreads the financial demands of the Christmas season over several months--and being prepared with a cash budget means you'll be less tempted to put holiday spending on credit cards.

Sister site Organized Christmas has some clever ways to start now to save money for a debt-free Christmas celebration:

Clever checkbook management can lead to a Christmas stash. When paying bills each month, "round down" the bank balance to the next even amount--say, from $967 to $900--by writing a dummy check for $67 and deducting it from the register. Don't cash it, but hold it for Christmas. Over a few months, those "round it down" amounts will add up to holiday funds.

Cash In! Do-It-Now Ways To Save Money For Christmas

Summer Cooking Tips: Cool Off in the Kitchen!

Who can imagine summer without summer food?

Steaming corn-on-the-cob, each kernel bursting with sweet flavor.

Burgers and barbecue. Ice cream sundaes.

The crisp red smile of a watermelon wedge, dripping with sweet juice.

There's a darker side to summer meals. Food budgets groan under the strain of substituting quick-cook steaks and chicken breasts for thrifty stove-top casseroles.

  Read More >>Printables:  food_menu_planner_weekly_list.pdf food_shopping_list.pdf

Summer Cleaning Chore Checklist

Summer's here, hot, high and sweaty. Vacations beckon. The garden takes on a life of its own.

Busy families don't have much time for home chores these months.

School's out, travel's in and it's easy to let life slide on the home front.

Still, summer will run more smoothly if you keep tabs on these important areas in the Summer Cleaning Chore Checklist.

Our summer cleaning chore checklist list tackles hot-weather issues, summer health and safety.

  Read More >>Printables:  phone_emergency_information.pdf health_first_aid_kit_checklist.pdf

School's Out! Summer Survival for Busy Moms

They're here! Tumbling from the school bus, fresh from Field Day, with papers and projects and petrified sandwiches spilling in their wake: your children.

Summer vacation is wonderful, no doubt about it.

Damp heads and wet bathing suits, backyard tents and fireflies in canning jars.

"Look, Mom!" rings out a hundred times a day, from the top of the pool slide to the bug-dotted bottom of an upturned rock.

  Read More >>Printables:  seasonal_picnic_checklist.pdf phone_emergency_information.pdf

Travel Tips: Get Organized For Family Vacations

Memorial Day is on the horizon, and school will let out soon for summer vacation. It's time to think "road trip"!

Family vacation travel can be enriching, enjoyable and exciting--but only if you're organized.

The family that fails to plan for summer travel can end up frazzled, frustrated and longing for the quiet comfort of home.

This year, get ready! Whether it's car trips, plane travel or close-to-home "stay-cation" trips, we've assembled OrganizedHome.Com's best, easiest tips to organize summer vacation travel.

  Read More >>Printables:  seasonal_travel_pre_checklist.pdf seasonal_travel_packing_checklist.pdf

Frugal Order: A Tightwad's Guide To Getting Organized

Getting organized! For many, that phrase is synonymous with "Buy Me!"

Savvy retailers know that "Get Organized Fever" breaks out at predictable intervals, and tailor ad campaigns to capitalize on the desire to create an organized home. Too often, professional organizers hear the cry, "But I can't afford to get organized!"

No doubt about it, there are many marvelous products on the market to help achieve better home and personal organization.

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Save at the Supermarket: Boost Your Price Power!

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on April 29, 2015

On any trip to the grocery store, it's the first and simplest question: what's the price?

Time was, it was easy to know the price of any grocery item; before computers, each can, carton and bottle sported a physical price tag.

Old-school physical price tags made food costs clear--and to raise prices, grocers had to re-tag food items.

This labor-intensive process discouraged wide swings in pricing. Shoppers knew what food cost, and it was easy to notice rising prices.

Hello, 21st century! In today's supermarket, finding the price of any item is no longer so straight-forward. What's a savvy shopper to do?

Today's computer-powered POS systems allow grocery stores to change item prices with a few keystrokes at the home office. Last week's $2.49 bottle of salad dressing? Today, it'll cost you $3.69!

This ability to reprice groceries on the fly has led to a perfect storm of supermarket promotions and price manipulation, all designed to do one thing: make it difficult to know how much food really costs. These pricing games are intended to obscure the true cost of groceries, and to trick shoppers into seeing bargains where they don't exist.

That $3.49 bottle of dressing? Well, the "club card" price is $3.29, and this week, if you buy $10 worth of the manufacturer's products, you'll earn a coupon good for $3 off your next shopping trip. Add in cents-off coupons, factor in store rewards .... and you'll need a calculator and about 3 minutes to answer the simple question: "What's the price?"

How to fight back when a trip to the supermarket feels more like a pop quiz in math class? Learn the difference between "unit price", "shelf price" and "target price" to cut through the pricing maze. Focus on these price pointers to guide buying decisions at the grocery store:

Compare Costs According to Unit Price

It's the grand-daddy of all pricing considerations: unit price. For most foods, it's expressed as the cost per ounce--and it will tell you at a glance whether the 16 ounce bottle of salad dressing is a better buy than the 8 ounce bottle.

For those of us who aren't enamored of arithmetic, it's not always easy to calculate this price on the fly. To find unit price, divide the total cost of the item by the number of ounces: a pound package of pasta that costs $1.60 carries a unit price of 10 cents. The larger, two-pound package that retails for $2.40 has a unit price of just over 7.8 cents, making it the better buy.

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However, reaching that conclusion took this math-phobic writer three minutes and some pencil scribbling on the back of an envelope.

Thankfully, many jurisdictions require grocery stores to list unit prices on shelf tags. Wear your reading glasses to find the tiny type, but the information you need will be found in the small print!

Making buying decisions according to the unit price also protects against what our friends at The Consumerist term the "grocery shrink ray".

Our 16-ounce bottle of salad dressing stands next to a "new improved" package of the same flavor. Close inspection shows that the new bottle design contains only 14 ounces of dressing--but it's being sold at the same price as the older model.

Comparing unit prices guards against inadvertently paying more for what looks like the same product.

Treat Shelf Prices with Skepticism

What's a shelf price? In today's supermarket, the price listed on the shelf for each item is closer to a myth than to reality--and smart shoppers treat the price that's on the shelf with a grain of salt.

Sure, our grocer labels each shelf in the salad dressing department with that $3.69 price, but if you buy with a club card? You'll pay only $3.29. Add in promotions, coupons and club rewards, and the "real" price for the dressing comes down to a figure closer to $2.89.

This week, anyway.

Markets use inflated shelf prices to tout "specials". By claiming that this week's salad dressing sale price of $2.99 has been reduced from the inflated shelf price, it creates an illusion of a bargain.

Similarly, wildly inflated shelf prices tend to go hand in hand with promotions like Buy One Get One Free. Called BOGOF by dedicated sales shoppers, these events could also be spelled BOGUS: too often, the shelf price of the "buy one" is more than double the non-sale price the previous week.

Bargain? Hardly. Free? Not when you pay more than double for that first item.

Tune In to Target Price

Unit price points out the best buys on any one trip to the supermarket, but how do you know whether this week's prices are high or low? Enter the target price!

Achieving real supermarket savings requires knowing the target price: the lowest sales price offered for that item over the life of the sales cycle.

It's the rock-bottom, on-sale price that signals the bargain hunter to buy in bulk and stockpile against the weeks when prices are high.

Establishing target prices requires observation over time. The tool of choice: a price book.

By tracking weekly price fluctuations for family staples--cereal, tomato sauce, peanut butter--the price book establishes the lowest sales price for each item, and illustrates the sales cycle, or length of time until the discounted price is available again.

Take an example: foil packets of water-packed tuna. A staple of lunch bags everywhere, shelf prices for packet tuna range from $1.49 to $2.19 ... but once every 7 to 8 weeks, tuna packets go on sale for one dollar. When they do, it's time to visit the store and stock up!

Knowing that the sales cycle is 7 to 8 weeks long, smart shoppers purchase enough tuna at the target price to tide the family over until the next sale.

Make Sense of Multiple Pricing

One final arrow in the supermarkets' price arsenal: multiple pricing. Offering products at prices like "2 for $7" or "3 for $5" are designed to do two things: obscure the true price of a single item, and subtly pressure shoppers into buying more than one.

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After all, selling bottled barbeque sauce at "3 for $5" sounds like a much better deal than pricing single items at $1.67--and it encourages shoppers to add three bottles to the cart, even when the family only needs one.

Fight back! On an index card, write out single prices for commonly-offered multiple price points, and tuck it into your wallet or coupon holder.

When you can see at a glance that the frozen pizzas priced at "3 for $10" cost $3.34 each, you'll be free to reach for the $2.99 brand on the next shelf.

Prepared to spend less at the supermarket? Brush up on your pricing power ... and save!

Printables: 

Travel Tip: Custom Packing List

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on April 22, 2015

Packing for family travel? A packing checklist can save your sanity--and your vacation. Now it's easy to make a custom online checklist with the Universal Packing List.

An interactive Web page, UPL asks for basic travel information--dates, family members, activities, weather--and generates a comprehensive custom list to guide packing for family travel. Print it out, and you'll never again forget the sunblock!

Universal Packing List

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Declutter 101: Strategies To Cut Clutter

Posted by Cynthia Ewer on April 19, 2015

Taking aim on the household clutter problem, you've resolved to work slowly and steadily, and you've carved out blocks of time to declutter.

Now what? And how?

Time to consider weigh in with specific methods and strategies for decluttering.

These tried-and-tested methods bring different strengths to the fight against clutter. Choose the one that's right for you and your family.

Forcing Decisions: The Four-Box Method

Clutter is evidence of many things: poor habits, lack of organization, sentimental attachment, too much stuff. But, at bottom, each item of clutter is a decision delayed.

The mail arrives, replete with circulars and junk mail and catalogs. "Oh, I'll go through that later!" whispers the clutter monster, deferring the simple decision to cull and toss the unwanted paper.

The Four-Box method forces a decision, item by item. To apply it, gather three boxes and a large trash can. Label the boxes, "Put Away", "Give Away/Sell" and "Storage." Items to be thrown away belong in the trash can.

Take the four boxes to the declutter area. One at a time, pick up each piece of clutter. Ask yourself, "Do I want to put this away in another place, donate it (or sell it at a yard sale), store it, or throw it away?" You may not release your grip on the item until you have made a decision.

At the end of the decluttering session, reserve 10 to 15 minutes to empty the boxes. Put Away items are put in more appropriate places. Give Away/Sell items should be stored outside the house, in a garage, or in the trunk of the car for drop-off at a charity donation center. As each Storage box fills, make a brief inventory of the contents and put the box into the storage area. Finally, empty the trash can quickly to prevent second thoughts!

The Four Box method will work for anyone, in any declutter mode. Use it to clear a shelf or drawer each day, or apply it as part of a whole-house weekend assault on clutter. By forcing a decision, it will serve you well as you cull clutter from the home.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Box and Banish

Box and Banish is an alternative to the Four Box method. Where the Four Box method nibbles away at clutter bit-by-bit, Box and Banish is a drastic, clear-it-out effort that transports clutter away from living areas, to be dealt with later.

Box and Banish is simple. Gather all clutter from counters, drawers, chairs, tables, floors, ovens, and bathtubs. Place the clutter into boxes or bags, and stack it somewhere outside the living area. Work until all surfaces are clear and clutter free.

Next step: open each box or bag of clutter, one at a time. As with the Four Box method, decide whether each item inside should be thrown away, put away, given away or sold, or stored. In extreme cases, declutterers have been known to throw away Box and Banish boxes, sight unseen!

Box and Banish has one big advantage and two big disadvantages as a declutter method.

On the plus side, Box and Banish creates instant results. Often, impending guests or other emergencies force a version of Box and Banish upon the cluttered household. Clearing clutter quickly sparks enthusiasm and motivation.

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On the minus side, energies often flag before the Box and Banish declutterer reaches the end of the boxed clutter. The effort stalls, the clutter remains, aging gently in the bags and boxes as it becomes surrounded by new layers of clutter.

In a worst-case scenario, the need for some Boxed-and-Banished item can trigger formation of Mt. Cluttermore, as the frantic searcher upends each carefully boxed hillock of clutter, looking for the single missing item. Result: you're worse off than when you began!

The second disadvantage? While Box and Banish can create an instant absence of apparent clutter, the method does nothing to change the underlying problem. More gradual decluttering methods go hand-in-hand with other components of getting organized: building new habits, organizing stored items, creating new household routines. Box and Banish, for many, is a mere cosmetic quick-fix--and it won't lead to the permanent changes you need to banish clutter for good.

Still, if you're fiercely motivated and determined to complete the declutter process, Box and Banish is an option that jumpstarts organization efforts with fast results.

Ellen's Penicillin Method

Often, decluttering efforts chase their tails in an endless loop. The home manager declutters the small table in the hallway and moves on. By the following week, a whole new species of clutter has returned to the cleared area.

The Penicillin method, devised by online declutterer Ellen in MN, uses a Petri dish metaphor to get a grip on clutter. Imagine a Petri dish full of fuzzy brown mold spores. A researcher begins to apply small drops of penicillin to the dish. Each little drop clears a small circular area; soon, drop upon drop, the entire dish is cleared of the distasteful intruder.

So, too, with the Penicillin method of decluttering. Today, the declutterer clears the kitchen table. From this point, no matter how bad the clutter becomes elsewhere, the kitchen table is inoculated with Penicillin. Daily clutter checks make sure no clutter is permitted to return.

Next declutter session, the declutterer attacks the top of the buffet. Thinking "Penicillin!", that clear space joins the kitchen table. Soon, the cleared areas link up, banishing clutter from the entire house.

By devoting declutter energies to retaining the Penicillin effect of each declutter session, the Penicillin method focuses the declutterer on prevention. The method is useful, creative, and works well to bring an entire house under control.

Closet-Go-Round: Whole House Declutter

Sometimes, you simply have to re-invent the wheel. Perhaps you realize, three years into a new house, that household storage needs a complete overhaul. Remodeling, a child's departure for college, or birth of a new baby can all signal a need for a whole-house declutter.

Call it the Closet-Go-Round. It's a two-part process of identifying and assigning storage, while at the same time decluttering and revamping existing areas in the home.

Like a merry-go-round, the Closet-Go-Round turns out, sorts out and relocates all the storage functions of the home. In the initial stage, you'll identify storage needs and match them to available storage areas, regardless of what's being stored where at the moment.

Once you know what should go where, the active phase begins. You will need boxes, lots of them, and time--quite a bit of time. Starting at the front door, move from room to room placing boxes in front of each storage area: cabinets, drawers, closets, and shelves.

Then begin at the beginning once more. Start, for example, at the table in the hall. Remove any and all items from the table that are not assigned there: gloves, mail, keys, change, handbags. Place them in your box.

When the table is empty, except for the vase of flowers that belongs there, circle the house with your catch. Gloves are placed in the box before the coat closet where they are supposed to live. Mail is dumped into the box in front of the desk area. Handbags and change are delivered to the owner's launch pad area. Items to be thrown away are delivered to the garbage can.

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When the box is empty, move on to the next storage area in the hall: the coat closet. Empty the coat closet of all unassigned items, while adding the gloves to their assigned area. Again, circle the house with your coat closet box, delivering items to the new storage area where each belongs.

As you work, you're sorting and decluttering in two directions. You're removing clutter and improperly-stored items, while collecting and replacing the things which belong in any given area.

A Closet-Go-Round is a big undertaking, and it doesn't work well if performed in fits and starts. Choose this method if you have a block of two or three days to devote to a major declutter. While you'll work hard during that time, a Closet-Go-Round can take giant strides toward a more efficient, easy-to-manage home.

Habit: The Household Wonder Worker

Looking for a way to live an organized life without having to think about it? Imagine the television pitch:

"Special offer! Not sold in stores! The amazing Household Wonder Worker will take your house from chaos to castle in only 21 days. It'll speed your cleaning, calm your chaos and cut your clutter. Don't wait! Get it today--and put our 21-day Household Wonder Worker to work for you!"

You say you have the phone in one hand and a credit card in the other? Sounds that good, does it?

  Read More >>